Mr. Gordon was a Chicago native, whose undergraduate and law degrees were from the University of Chicago.
After leaving Capitol Hill in 1976, Mr. Gordon set up shop as a pension and employee benefits lawyer, initially as founding partner of Mittelman & Gordon and, since 1985, on his own.
"Mike was secure in himself and blessed with an intellect of great depth, a moral compass that was invariably true, and a wonderful sense of humor. And, he had an abiding faith in the Cubs," said Steven J. Sacher, a partner in the Washington office of Kilpatrick Stockton LLP.
"Some will stand in his shoes; none will fill them," Mr. Sacher said.
"He was very, very special because he had a core of commitment and principles and decency and integrity that he never let go of," said Frank Cummings, partner at LeBoeuf Lamb Greene & MacRae, Washington, who was chief of staff to Mr. Javits from the late 1960s until the early 1970s.
Mr. Gordon shared his passion for ERISA with lawmakers, lawyers, employee groups and journalists, serving on numerous committees and working groups discussing pension issues. He was chairman of the Pension Rights Center, a participant group, for nearly two decades. In recent years, he acted as the general counsel for the National Retiree Legislative Network, a coalition of retired workers, and goaded companies to uphold promised retiree health-care benefits. Legislation drafted by Mr. Gordon on that issue currently is being considered by Congress.
But he also continued to tinker with ways for improving ERISA. He recognized early on that the law was not perfect, telling Pensions & Investments in a Sept. 13, 1976, interview that there had been a need for "a clean-up bill" a year later to take care of the technical problems that became apparent in the original legislation.
"But there was a tremendous concern about opening up the door to more substantive, controversial and spurious changes and, because of that concern, the door was locked against any kind of amendment," he said.
Mr. Gordon also was among the first to admit that the very premise upon which the private pension system was built — employer-sponsored plans — might be anachronistic. In the mid-1990s, he proposed an occupation-based pension system, through which all employers in a particular profession would contribute to a single plan, along the lines of the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association-College Retirement Equities Fund, New York. But because of tax law complexities that had to be overcome, Mr. Gordon's proposal did not advance.
He also resisted calls for eroding ERISA provisions he felt were essential, including the prohibited transaction rules and the safety blanket for workers offered through the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.